US Defense Secretary Panetta’s memoirs reveal poor judgment

By Arthur I. Cyr

Leon Panetta, after twenty months as U.S. Secretary of Defense and before that two years as director of the CIA, has brought forth memoirs. The volume is blunt in criticizing others, including President Barack Obama. This imitates Robert Gates, Panetta’s immediate predecessor at the Pentagon. Cabinet members, including defense secretaries, have published memoirs but not while the administration in which they served was still in power. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also brought out a book. However, her committee document is more diplomatic, calculating and careful in distancing herself from the president while simultaneously expressing loyalty. Robert Gates’ memoirs are especially significant. His career unfolded at the CIA, where he became the first director to rise through the ranks. His tenure as defense secretary spanned the two administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, unprecedented bipartisan service.

Gates became regarded as a dedicated public servant. His score-settling in print therefore was surprising. Panetta is a politician, presumed to seek the limelight. These developments bring to mind General George C. Marshall, who as U.S. army chief of staff was vital to World War II victory. He then led the state and defense departments, where he became a target of Senator Joseph McCarthy and associates in the anti-communist hysteria of the time. When Marshall died, I was working after school as an office clerk for a Pacific war veteran who ran a small business. Mr. Henricks survived horrific combat on Bougainville, but with disturbing physical and emotional scars apparent to a young boy.

He usually tried fiercely to focus on the business but took a break to discuss the general with reverence; uncharacteristic sentimentality from a usually restless, tormented man. I wondered why the top military commander had such a hold on this line soldier. Marshall never produced memoirs, and turned down enormous offers from publishers. From a vastly different America, he viewed public service as a special privilege. He was concerned about embarrassing others and inadvertently compromising national security. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was annoyed the military chief refused to be called by his first name, or meet socially with their wives, but also emphasized he could not sleep at night if Marshall was outside the country. Marshall captured FDR too.